Before eradication efforts began, cattle fever ticks were widespread throughout the entire southern United States. Direct and indirect economic losses were estimated in 1906 –the year the disease was first detected in the U.S. –to be $130.5 million, or about $3 billion today.

“And the thing is, most ranchers aren’t even aware of the battle that is being waged on their behalf at the Mexican border; some have never heard of cattle fever ticks. But there is a real danger a major outbreak could happen again if it isn’t stopped at the front line,” Pound says.

To be effective CFTEP requires both a permanent quarantine zone and temporary quarantine areas as movement of the disease bearing tick is discovered. Just this week, APHIS relaxed quarantine restrictions on 42,000 acres of property (east of Highway 83) in Starr County that had been in effect since July, 2007.

But managing the disease and the tick that spreads it involves more than managing cattle herds on the border. In addition to cattle, horses and mules also can host disease-spreading ticks, and of more concern is the spread of tick populations by the growing populations of white-tailed deer and other wild ungulates along the border. Pound and his colleagues at the Kerrville laboratory have intensively studied the impact white-tailed deer have on the cattle fever tick population and developed interventions to eradicate them among native deer populations.

“Keeping cattle fever ticks eradicated from the United States, and thus keeping the national cattle herd free of cattle fever, is a current and critical agricultural biosecurity issue of national importance,” Pound says.

The number of cattle fever tick outbreaks inside and outside of the permanent quarantine zone fluctuates over time. It took nearly six years to accomplish re-eradication after a significant incursion by ticks into the United States in the 1970s. During the last 5 years, Bowers says the level of cattle fever tick activity in the United States has again increased to alarming levels. But efforts in recent months have helped curtail the spread of the disease. Pound points to the re-evaluation of the Starr County temporary quarantine zone as an indication that the battle may be tipping back to the side of control.